The Last of the Spirits, from Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition.
During Christmas this year, I must’ve watched half a dozen different versions of The Christmas Carol. Whether it was with Mickey or Muppets, a parody or a podcast, the storyline on all of these sitcoms and movies took the same basic route each time I watched one. Through studying his past, present and future, a selfish person sees the error of his ways. In Charles Dickens’ version, after Ebenezer Scrooge’s depressing end is revealed, he asks the third ghost in a shaky voice, “Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?”
After three or four times watching this scene play out, I started thinking about what would happen if people really were visited by a trio of spirits who could sum it all up. What if we all knew how it was going to end, and we were given the news with enough warning that we could change the ending?
In 2 Kings 20, we read a similar story of a man who gets a second chance, but instead of three ghosts, King Hezekiah was visited by a prophet. Hezekiah had been sick, and Isaiah came to tell him he wouldn’t recover. Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. He cried and cried, asking God for more time. Before Isaiah had left the palace, God told the prophet, “Go back to the king and tell him I have heard his prayer and seen his tears. Tell him I will heal him, and he will live 15 more years.”
Now if this were one of those adaptations of The Christmas Carol, this would be the point when Hezekiah changed. He would wake up the next morning and throw open the window on a new day. He would call out to some passerby, “What day is it? Am I really still alive?” Then he would spend his last 15 years devoting himself to the Temple, God’s word and His people. He may have started off that way, but he actually squandered that extra decade and a half. When an envoy from Babylon came to town, he took them through his storehouses and bragged about his wealth and good fortune. It was as if those miserable, tear-soaked hours he had spent praying for God to save him had never happened. Because of his arrogance, Babylon would end up taking everything and everyone.
I feel pretty certain that we won’t be visited by ghosts like Ebenezer Scrooge or get the King Hezekiah experience, but with the end of another year upon us, we get the chance to reflect and rededicate. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions or setting goals for 2024, I’ve decided to list what I know to be true. I will thank God for the promises in Scripture. I will try to praise Him in good and bad times. As the popular saying goes, “I may not know what my future holds, but I know who holds my future.”